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Feb. 9: Older Adults as Connected Beings and Their Cognitive Functions


Older Adults as Connected Beings and Their Cognitive Functions

WHEN: Thursday, February 9, 2017, 12:00 - 1:40 p.m.

WHERE: Knox Hall 509, 606 W 122nd Street

In this lecture, I will examine the association between the social networks and cognitive functions among older adults by using a global network data of an entire village in South Korea. Especially, I would like to focus on three major characteristics of social networks: size, embeddedness, and brokerage.

First, the in-degree (not out-degree) size of the social networks showed a strong and consistent association with orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) volume in brain measured by regional grey matter density (rGMD). Additional analysis supported the possibility of the mediation by long-term memory capacity.

In other words, large in-degree social networks would increase long-term memory capacity, which in turn, would increase OFC volume. (Or it is also possible that large OFC volume would increase the in-degree size of social networks through better long-term memory capacity).

Second, social embeddedness measured by k-core in the global networks of the village revealed strong positive association with brain functional connectivity. Even after controlling for age, more strongly embedded people (or people with higher k-core score) showed increased functional connectivity between long distance regions, especially between frontal and occipital lobes. This suggests the possibility of aging-buffering role of social embeddedness in cognitive decline.

Finally, the role of brokerage in addition to embeddedness was examined by using the Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE). When we divided the whole older adults into three groups based on their MMSE scores (risky group with lowest MMSE scores, non-risky group with medium MMSE scores, and sharp-minded group with highest MMSE scores), embeddedness measured by k core helped to avoid falling into risk group.

However, among the people who were not at risk, brokerage not embeddedness helped to maintain sharp cognitive capacity. This finding confirmed a classic proposition that embeddedness (or cohesion) is associated with 'getting along' while brokerage helps 'getting ahead.'

Yoosik Youm is a Professor in the Department of Sociology at Yonsei University, South Korea. He earned a B.A. and a M.A. in Business Administration from Yonsei University (1987; 1990), and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago (2000). He had been served as an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago from 2000 to 2005 before he moved to Yonsei University.

Yoosik’s research interests are in the fields of Medical Sociology and Social Networks. His current research projects include the Korean Social Life, Health, and Aging Project (KSHAP) that collects both a global social networks of an entire village and various bio-markers by using blood sampling and fMRI. Its major goal is to unpack the black boxes and reveal bio-social-mechanisms to explain tons of observations to show associations between diverse social networks (or social supports) and various health statuses over decades.

Lunch and light refreshments will be provided. All are welcome!

For inquires about Networks and Time, please contact coordinators Byungkyu Lee ( or Mark Hoffman (

Funding support for the Networks and Time Seminar Series is provided by the Paul F. Lazarsfeld Lecture Series, administered by INCITE, which features events and programming that embody and honor Lazarsfeld’s commitment to the improvement of methodological approaches that address concerns of vital cultural and social significance.